Ronald Karauri is not a stranger to Kenya’s corporate scene, being the chief executive of sports betting firm SportPesa, a company he co-founded in 2014. But only a few people know that he was a commercial pilot for 11 years.
In 2000, national carrier Kenya Airways was recruiting cadet trainees and Karauri was lucky to be selected and sent for training in Ethiopia.
After training, he joined KQ as a co-pilot and worked for six years before being promoted to captain; stayed on for another five years.
In 2015, the father of two retired from KQ to assume the CEO’s role at SportPesa, transforming into the multi-billion global betting firm that is SportPesa Global today.
“It was not an easy decision back then because I was comfortable at KQ and good at my job. I was leaving that for the tough task of running a company,” Karauri told The EastAfrican.
In less than three years, SportPesa has grown from being just another Kenyan betting firm to a globally renowned betting giant, signing sponsorship and partnership deals with English Premier League football clubs Arsenal FC, Everton FC and Hull City FC.
In Kenya, SportPesa sponsors top flight football clubs Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards, the Rugby Union, the Football Kenya Federation and the Boxing Federation.
“I am one of the happiest men in the world because we started this from scratch and we have built it to where it is now. We now feature on the advertising perimeter boards of 10 top clubs in the English Premier League,” Kararuri adds.
Sport betting has experienced an exponential growth in recent years in Kenya, leading to a proliferation of local and foreign betting firms all fighting for market share.
This year, Kenya’s parliament passed an betting law and in June, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed it into law. The Finance Bill 2017 imposes a 35 per cent tax on gross profits on all gambling and it will take effect in January, 2018.
The SportPesa CEO spoke to The EastAfrican's Victor Kiprop on his off-duty passion.
What is your typical day like?
I normally wake up at 6:00am in order to be at the gym by 6:30am. I spend about two hours at the gym and find my way to the office between 8:00am and 8:30am. I leave the office at 4:00pm and head straight home.
How do you manage your wardrobe?
I never used to wear suits a lot because I grew up as a hip-hop fan, dressing in baggy jeans, tee-shirts and sneakers. I started dressing up in suits more because of work.
How do you unwind after a busy week?
By playing basketball and cycling. I have loved basketball since my days in high school so in my free time I’m either playing or watching it. I also have a cycling team with whom I go riding once in a while.
You are a well known fan of the US NBA league. What is your favourite team?
The Golden State Warriors of California.
Describe your best destination yet in East Africa?
I have always enjoyed living in Nairobi; however, recently I have been enjoying my time in Dar es Salaam a lot, probably because I am now seeing it in a different light. I used to be a pilot and mostly saw it from above and never spent enough time in the city.
What car do you drive?
I am a car fanatic and I love driving different models, but my favourite is the Range Rover Overfinch. I love it because it’s comfortable and it has off-road capabilities.
What type of music do you listen to and who is your favourite musician?
I still love hip-hop and some bits of Naija music. Jay-Z remains my all-time favourite hip-hop artiste. My favourite Nigerian musician used to be D’ Banj, but he has gone down musically, so Tekno is my new favourite.
What do you regard as your biggest achievement over the years?
That after forming the betting firm SportPesa, we continue to achieve new milestones everyday. But I think watching the first eleven of the English Premier League side Everton FC play against Kenyan club Gor Mahia in Tanzania, was one of my proudest moments.
Now that you have mentioned Sportpesa, do you bet?
Yes, I do and very often actually. In fact, I won my last bet on Manchester City to score first against Chelsea in this season’s game. However, as the chief executive of the company, I cannot withdraw the prize money because of company rules, so I just do it for fun.
What is you take on betting?
That it should not and cannot be considered a career. No one should ever quit their job to pursue betting full time because gambling is purely for entertainment.
Betting is a game of chance, so if you have some extra money try your luck. But always play an amount that you are ready to lose.
What part of the job keeps you awake at night?
Systems failure. The company has made it to where it is because of the reliability of our systems. I therefore get really upset when we have issues with our system or one of our mobile partners has issues and punters cannot get their payments or other services on time, resulting in complaints.